Last time we began to look at the issue of understanding the will of God and its relationship to decision-making. (If you missed the first part of this series, you can find it here.) Now we want to look at the two different concepts of God’s will found in Scripture.
The first is God’s sovereign will, sometimes called His decretive will or His secret will. It is God’s predetermined plan for everything that happens in the universe and there are several things we want to note about it.
It is certain. That is, God always accomplishes His sovereign will. This idea is supported by passages all over the Bible. Daniel 4:35, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” Psalm 115:3, But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. Psalm 135:6, Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps. Nothing can prevent God from accomplishing His will. What He has planned will inevitably come to pass. (cf. Job 42:2; Psa33:11; Jer 23:20; Isa 14:24-27, 43:13, 46:9-10, 55:10-11; Eph 1:11)
It is exhaustive. All things are meticulously controlled by His divine sovereign power. Eph 1:11 refers to God as the one who controls all things according to the counsel of His will. This includes the natural world (Job 37:6-13; Psa 65:9-11, 135:6-7, 147:15-18), seemingly random or insignificant events (Pro 16:33; 1 Sam 9:15-17, 10:20-21;Matt 6:26-30), human history (Acts 17:26; Psa 33:10-11; Pro 21:1; Job 12:23-25;Jas 4:13-15), and human decisions for both good and evil (Jos 11:20; Exo 21:13;Psa 105:25; Amos 3:6; 2 Sam 16:10; 1 Chron 21:1, 2 Sam 24:1; Jdg 9:23; 1 Sam16:14-16, 16:23-17:1, 18:10, 19:9; 1Kings 12:15, 22:20-23; 1 Sam 2:25; 2 Thess2:11-12; Gen 45:5-9, 50:20; Exo 4:21, 9:12, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4, 14:8; Rom 9:17-18; Acts 2:22-23, 4:27-28). Nothing is left outside of His control and nothing happens that He has not willed.
It is secret. Only God knows His sovereign plan (Rom11:33-34; Jas 4:13-15). There are two exceptions to this: 1) predictive prophecy, in which the Lord reveals ahead of time something that He plans to do (Matt 24:30; Rev 6-19); and (2) the ultimate destiny of the saved and the lost (John 3:16, 3:36, 14:3; Rev20:11-15; 21:8).
It is perfect. God’s sovereign plan will ultimately lead to God’s greatest glory (Eph 1:3-14, 3:10, 3:20-21; Rom 9:22-23).
From what the Bible teaches about God’s sovereign will, we can derive several principles:
1. God does have a detailed plan for everyone’s life because everything that happens is a part of His sovereign plan.
2. We cannot discern what that plan is – it is secret.
3. We are not required to discern what that plan is.
4. We cannot mess it up. It will take place without fail.
The second biblical concept of God’s will is His moral will. It is sometimes called His revealed will or His preceptive or prescriptive will. God’s moral will is His revealed commands and principles in the Bible that teach us how we ought to live and what we ought to believe. There are several things to note about it:
It is the expression, in behavioral terms, of God’s character. In Leviticus 11:44-45, Yahweh tells His people to “be holy, for I am holy.” He then defines how to do that in everyday life by giving moral laws. This principle of pursuing the holiness of God is reiterated in the New Testament as Peter quotes Lev 11:45 in 1 Peter 1:15-16: but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
It touches every aspect and moment of life. It directs our goals, the pinnacle of which should be to love God and one another (Matt 22:35-40). It directs our motives, the highest of which should be to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 5:9;Col 1:10). It also directs the means by which we may accomplish our goals, requiring that they be lawful and wise (Eph 5:15-17).
It is fully revealed in the Bible. It is our final authority for faith and practice, life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3-4). It is sufficient to equip the believer for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
From what the Bible teaches about God’s moral will, we can derive at least a couple of principles:
1. Wherever the Bible commands us to know or do God’s will, it must be referring to His moral will. This is because His moral will is fully revealed in the Bible, but His sovereign will is secret.
2. God holds us responsible for keeping His moral will.
Next time, we’ll take a look at how these biblical concepts of God’s will pose a challenge to the prevailing view of God’s will and decision-making. Until then, consider for which of the two biblical views of God’s will do you bear any responsibility? Are you responsible to accomplish His sovereign will? What about His moral will?